By LARRY VAUGHT
Knowing that Reid Travis was not going to play because of a sprained knee, Kentucky players were talking before Saturday’s game against Auburn that they needed “someone to come out here and get rebounds,” according to point guard Ashton Hagans.
“Our coaches were telling all the guards that we needed to come out here and get rebounds. Keldon Johnson said he got it, so that’s what he came out here and did,” Hagans said.
Johnson more than “got it” during UK’s 80-53 victory. He pulled off a career-high 17 rebounds to more than offset the loss to Travis.
“We knew we had to make up for Reid’s absence, so I knew I had to go in and hit the glass extra hard today,” Johnson, who also had eight points and a career-high five assists. “We didn’t really miss a beat. I mean we would have liked to have Reid, but we knew that we all had to pick it up a notch and that’s just what we had to do.”
With Travis out, Johnson had to play more at the power forward spot instead of just his normal small forward.
“I mean I’m comfortable with it, just get in there and be tough. That’s what I do. I go in there and be tough and whatever they need me to do, I just go out there and do it,” Johnson said.
However, Kentucky coach John Calipari joked after the game that Johnson “told on himself” with his career-best rebounding effort.
“If he thinks he’s getting two rebounds next game (against Arkansas Tuesday), I’m going to be all over him. He told on himself. You’re able to get that many rebounds? You’re able to go above the rim against a team like that, that rebounds like crazy, offensively?” Calipari said. “But we had worked and said, ‘Look, they are going to shoot 3’s,’ and he went after the ball. He was screaming to grab balls, too. Grabbed them with two hands. “Really proud of him. He knew how many points he was having. He tried to get those other points to get that double-double so bad. Shot that 3 and I said, ‘Why don’t you drive it?’ Because he thought, ‘Well, if I get 3, I got it.’ Missed that layup. Killed himself. Missed that free throw, he wanted to stab himself in the eye. He knew exactly what he had.”
But he rebounded so well that not getting the double-double was the least of Calipari’s worries and Johnson, and the other Cats, did have the discipline to take a high amount of 3-point shots in the second half after building a big lead.
“We just knew that we hit a couple early 3s and we were hot, but we knew that we had to keep going downhill and attacking and not settlingWe know we can hit 3s. We practice every day and we know what we are capable of, but we knew to get downhill and keep creating shots for others,” Johnson said.
Not only did they do that, but they also limited Auburn — which was averaging about 76 points per game – to a season low 53 points.
“We just got a high hand up on all their 3-point shot attempts, and just moving our feet on defense and playing hard,” Johnson said.